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Through Clouds, Greenwich Sees Venus in Transit

GREENWICH, Conn. – Cloudy skies gave way briefly to sunshine Tuesday evening at the Bowman Observatory in Greenwich, allowing residents and visitors to check out a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event – the Venus transit.

Resident Shelby Saer was first in line to see Venus crossing the sun. She stood on a ladder above a massive telescope at the observatory to see a projection of the planet cast on a white screen.

“What were the chances? It was great,” she said of being the first to see the transit that happens once every 243 years. “I grabbed all six kids who were at my house and said, ‘We’re going!’ My mother loved this stuff and she died last August, so this is for her.”

The transit of Venus happens in pairings, either in June or December, eight years apart in a pattern repeated only once every 243 years, with gaps of 121.5 and 105.5 years between pairings. The last transit in the current pairing occurred in June 2004, and the next pairing won't be until December 2117 and December 2125.

Inside the observatory, Rick Bria of the Astronomical Society of Greenwich, used a planetary model to show visitors the position of the Earth, Venus and the sun at the time of the transit.

“The first observation of a transit was in 1639. With the projection method, you allow the sun to come through the telescope and use the eyepiece to project onto a piece of paper,” said Bria. In addition to this tried-and-true method, he also used a digital camera to send video of Venus in transit to a laptop screen.

Before the sun peaked out from cloudy, rainy skies, one eager resident pulled out a smartphone as others gathered around him to watch a NASA webcast of the event outside of the observatory on a hill beside Julian Curtiss School.

Raj Patel came with his wife and young daughter from Stamford to see the event. “I’ve been reading about it. … My wife is avid about astronomy. The last two hours we were debating whether to go, then for about five minutes the sun came out so we decided to give it a shot. Once we got here it started raining again,” he said. “Our baby is 1 so maybe she’ll get to see it again.”

Donna Massari also brought her young daughter Olivia to the observatory. “She’s a little young to appreciate it, but I think it’s a fun thing to do and I never knew this was here. Usually when we try to see something, it’s always cloudy and you never see it.”

Though the sighting was brief, Margaret Kessler, a Greenwich resident, said it was an opportunity to check out the Bowman Observatory. “Now we know more about it and hopefully can come back another time,” she said.

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